Turkey day prep!

And so the chaos begins.

Actually, I’m a very organized chef for holidays. Well in advance, I come up with the menu and actually create a schedule for the day that I can (as well as whoever’s helping in the kitchen) follow without getting crazed and stressed out. This is one of the smartest ideas I’ve ever had. I’m a worrier, Type-A by nature. I like a good list, and if you’re like me, the schedule is your best friend.

The best way to figure out your schedule is knowing two things: when do you want to eat, and how long does your longest component take. For Thanksgiving, the thing that takes the longest to cook is the turkey, of course. Once we decide on when we want to eat, it’s a bit of simple subtraction. Take last year: we wanted to eat at 4 pm. It was going to take 2 hrs 15 minutes to cook the turkey, plus 30 minutes to rest, and time for the oven to come up to temperature while finishing last-minute bird prep (which I gave myself 30 mins to do). All told, I needed 3 hrs 15 minutes to get the turkey done. So I started my schedule at 12:45 pm. Everything else was worked around the most important component. It’s especially helpful if you have multiple things coming in and out of the oven and you have to remember to baste. I put every little prep and cooking detail (including recipe page numbers) on the schedule with the menu at the top.

Thanksgiving 2011-page-001

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Never again have a frazzled holiday of cooking!

Now, besides setting up my wonderful schedule, today is also brining day! Remember when I told you about my pilgrimage to Williams Sonoma? And how I bought a container of turkey brine? Well, it’s time to break that bad boy out. We’ve brined our turkey for the past few years, and it, combined with the breast down roasting technique, has resulted in the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had.

Now, if you’ve never brined something, the idea can seem a little intimidating. But trust me, the hardest part about it is making sure you have a container big enough to hold it all. Really, all it comes down to is boiling salt, sugar, and seasoning in water until the salt and sugar dissolve. Then the mix is cooled, diluted with some water (usually ice water to bring the temp down even more), and poured over the turkey. It’s like giving your turkey a nice bath before you fire up the oven. Now, the first two years we brined, we put our turkey in a garbage bag (2, actually, for better leak protection) and put it in the cooler in the garage (where is stays well below 45 this time of year). the tricky part is that you’re supposed to turn the turkey once about half way through the 12-36 hour brining time. This year, we got a little fancy and bought brining bags at Williams Sonoma. It’s still going in the cooler in the garage, but perhaps it’s a bit more secure this time. We’ll see.

Anyways, once it’s time to cook, you simply remove the bird from the brine, rinse and pat dry. It really does make a big difference, not just in flavor, but in moistness. The salt in the brine pulls moisture into the bird that then keeps things juicy in the oven.

And should you need help for this holiday, don’t forget that Butterball has a hotline:

This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes of television. Really, the whole episode, “The Indians in the Lobby” (Season 3, Episode 8) is worth watching on Netflix.

Tomorrow I’ll be blogging as I cook (provided things don’t get too nutty with three people cooking!), and then a recap and leftover ideas on Friday. Happy holidays!

My pilgrimage to Williams Sonoma

Shopping with my dad is always a little dangerous. Pretty much any situation where I am shopping can be a little hairy. I am not ashamed to say I enjoy shopping, especially for kitchen gadgets and whatnot. I have done a lot better in the last few years not going overboard. But when my dad and I get together, we can justify each other’s whims and find ourselves with a much larger bag leaving the store than we anticipated when we walked in. For this reason, my mother makes us call her before we head to the checkout and explain everything we are buying. We did not do that this time.

To be fair, we only bought two things that weren’t on our “list.” We headed in knowing we were going to pick up some pumpkin bread mix (one of which I made and will share the story of soon), a jar of turkey brine mix, and the bags to brine the Thanksgiving turkey in. We got those. I ended up getting three bags of the bread mix, and tossed in a bag of carrot bread mix as well. I do not count the carrot bread mix as one of the indiscretions, but you can feel free to disagree with me.

We found the turkey brine mix and decided to pick up a jar of thyme garlic brine to do a pork loin in. Again, I do not count the second jar as an off the list buy. It is also brine, and therefore counts. Next to the brine, however, was the first piece of trouble. Braising sauce. I have never personally braised something, but I have always wanted to. This jar of delicious looking balsamic and caramelized onion sauce called to me. “Rebecca, I would be amazing on a chicken.” Yes, yes you would be. First off the list item added to our haul.

The haul (minus two more bags of bread mix). Also, that is a pumpkin from my backyard.

The haul (minus two more bags of bread mix). Also, that is a pumpkin from my backyard.

One thing you should keep in mind at this point is that I was carrying all of our stuff around the store in my arms. Williams Sonoma is not a place that has carts or baskets. Yes, I could have left what we’d picked up so far at the counter, but I have a feeling that the weight of our haul was keeping us from picking out more stuff and acted as a motivator for me to get dad to the checkout before my arms fell off.

So, with our growing cadre of items, we picked up the brine bags, and I followed my dad around the store for another five or so minutes. After watching him look at stuff we were never going to find a way to convince my mom to OK, I said I was going to stand in line and he better follow. It was there at the checkout that we he spotted our second off list item. While I was unloading my very sore arms, he walked over to the gourmet candy shelf and picked up some Sour Apple Slices candy. Now, truthfully, that is a small step outside the lines. We even mulled over getting my mom something similar for her, but decided there wasn’t anything she would really enjoy (which she confirmed when we described our choices). With all of our stuff totaled and double bagged (because even the clerk recognized how heavy it all was), we left. I will not disclose the total we reached (which mom was not thrilled with, but took much better than either of us expected).

I made my dad carry the bag out.


Small aside: I realized in editing this blog that I wrote Williams Sonoma wrong every time in the first pass. I always leave the ‘s’ off Williams. I do that even when I say it. Maybe they should just be William Sonoma. Too many s’s next to each other. 😉